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The Nephew Of Norval Morrisseau, Implicated In Massive Art Fraud Scandal, Reaches A Resolution With Community Elders

One of the accused in the Norval Morrisseau art fraud ring case has reached a resolution with his community. 

Benjamin Morrisseau, Norval’s nephew, appeared in court in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Thursday on forgery charges. After meeting with elders, an agreement was reached that will see him undertake reparation measures, which can be part of the restorative justice process. 

“Restorative justice principles can include a focus on relationships, repairing harm, taking responsibility, and taking personal and family history into account,” according to the Ontario Crown Prosecution Manual. 

In the Morrisseau case, the details of what reparative measures could look like, and what they may mean in terms of the charges he faced, are still unknown. 

Norval Morrisseau was an Anishinaabe artist from northwestern Ontario who died in 2007 at age 75. Ontario Provincial Police have said addressing the fraud ring involved the largest art fraud investigation in Canadian history.

In total, police laid more than 40 charges against eight people in March 2023. The investigation led to the seizure of more than 1,000 pieces of forged artwork.

Background of the case

Benjamin and two others were charged with knowingly making artwork falsely attributed to Norval. The offences allegedly occurred between Jan., 1, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2015. 

Gary Lamont pleaded guilty on Dec. 4 and has been sentenced to five years of incarceration on a forgery charge and a charge of defrauding the public in an amount exceeding $5,000. 

Lamont oversaw the production and distribution of hundreds of forged artworks falsely attributed to Norval Morrisseau starting in 2002, according to the agreed statement of facts submitted to the courts. Some of these forgeries were created by Benjamin, then signed with Norval’s name. 

All charges against Linda Tkachyk were withdrawn in December. 

Court documents filed in proceedings against Lamont say Benjamin (also known as Benji) is a nephew of Norval. Benjamin, also an artist, paints in the Woodland style of art pioneered by Norval. 

“Benji regarded Norval Morrisseau as a mentor and considers himself as one of Norval Morrisseau’s apprentices and a very similar artist to him,” reads the agreed statement of facts.

Benjamin provided Lamont with unsigned paintings, the statement says.

“According to Benji, Lamont had promised to arrange an exhibition of Benji’s art, which never occurred.” 

Remaining accused due in court in June 

The three remaining accused are:

  • Jeffrey Gordon Cowan of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
  • James (Jim) White of Essa Township.
  • David P. Bremner of Locust Hill.

They are scheduled to appear in a Barrie court in June for a pretrial. 

Earlier Thursday, the province’s court listings stated Morrisseau was scheduled to take a plea and three other co-accused were scheduled to appear. 

CBC News has since learned that was a technical error and only Morrisseau was in court for the matter.

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